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Researching the Affects That Online Pornography Has on U.K. Adolescents Aged 11 to 16:

Researching the Affects That Online Pornography Has on U.K. Adolescents Aged 11 to 16: This article considers data from a large empirical study of nearly 1,100 U.K. adolescents aged 11 to 16 (in a mixed methods three-stage sample) and provides an overview of their experiences of online adult pornography. The article investigates how seeing online pornography influenced those who watched it, and to what degree, if any, the attitudes of those adolescents altered with repeat viewings. It concludes with an overview of the social policy challenges, both domestic and international, posed by the findings. Keywords children, problematic internet use, computer-mediated communication, survey, interviews, pornography use, and a range of differential demographic variables of Information and Communications engagement with online pornography. An analysis of the Technology (ICT) and Online nature of adolescents’ engagement with online pornography Pornography is presented, that is, what they see, and how they feel about Adolescent access to online adult pornography has increased it, and how this may have changed with repeated exposure. in the last decade due to a confluence of enabling factors This article presents an initial overview of the findings, including increased use and access to internet-connected endeavoring to explore behavior and attitudes among the devices; the increased power of those same devices; the large sample of adolescents and contains no inferential pro- increased mobility of Wi-Fi-connected devices; the growth jections onto wider populations. As a piece of exploratory of increasingly portable Wi-Fi-connected devices and finally fieldwork, the results are largely left to speak for them- the widespread availability of and ease of access to online selves, rather than being used to confirm or reject extant adult pornography. This article aims to explore how the pro- theoretical stances on the influence of online pornography liferation of internet access has led to an increased viewing on adolescents. of online pornography; it also aims to ascertain the conse- Finally, the sharing of self-generated images, or “sexting” quences of this exposure for adolescents. The article begins is evaluated, including an investigation into what adolescents by laying-out laws in England and Wales relating to the aged 11 to 16 understand by the concept of “sexting” and the viewing and possession of online pornography that would be motivations, potential pressures, and extent to which young legal if viewed by people 18 years and above. It also presents people have shared naked or seminaked images of them- legislation concerning the self-creation, distribution, and selves to known or unknown others. We conclude with a dis- possession of naked/seminaked and/or sexualized images of cussion of two pressing social policy implications. adolescents below 18 years. Wi-Fi-enabled technology, such as smartphones and tablets, with powerful media capabilities and mobility are increasingly used by adolescents away from Middlesex University London, UK their homes; this is considered alongside the rise of Social University of East London, UK Networking Sites (SNSs) and image sharing applications University of Hertfordshire, UK like Snapchat and Instagram, where online pornography is Corresponding Author: ever more prevalent. Andrew Monaghan, School of Law, Middlesex University London, The Quantitative and qualitative data were blended into a Burroughs, Hendon, London NW4 4BT, UK. synthesized analysis to create an overview of the extent of Email: Andrew87@mdx.ac.uk Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open viewing such material could vary from once ever, to daily Current Debates and Evidence (Horvath et al., 2013). Recent European studies that have For the purposes of this article, adolescents are taken to be focused on viewers in the last 3 to 6 months of activity have aged 11 to 17, although other secondary researchers have produced rates of 15% to 57% for all adolescents (Horvath included 18- to 19-year-olds in their own categorizations. et al., 2013). Adolescents who have viewed, and who possess adult por- Dutch researchers Valkenburg and Peter’s (2006) study nography in the United Kingdom, have not broken any laws found that 71% of the male adolescents and 40% of the unless they view or possess extreme adult pornography (Art females (13- to 18-year-olds) had seen some form of pornog- 5, sections 63 to 67 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration raphy. More recently, Stanley et al. (2018) considered find- Act 2008). Such images include those in which a person’s ings from 4,564 young people aged 14 to 17 in five European life is threatened; those where a person’s anus, breasts, or Union (EU) countries and found that regular online pornog- genitalia are likely to suffer serious injury; and instances of raphy viewing was between 19% and 30%. necrophilia or bestiality (Crown Prosecution Service [CPS], In terms of online risky behavior, research by Bowlin 2017). However, the U.K. providers of online pornography (2013) found that up to 60% of sexually explicit short mes- may have been in breach of legislation requiring commercial sages (sometimes known as “sexts”) may be disseminated organizations like PornHub to prevent under 18-year-olds beyond the original recipient. Potential consequences for the from accessing such material. Conversely, it is illegal for child subject of the image can be devastating, whether the adolescents under the age of 18 to appear in sexually explicit image was self-generated consensually or coerced, and can images (Protection of Adolescents Act, 1978; Criminal range from intense public shame and humiliation to mental Justice Act, 1988 s160 and Sexual Offences Act 2003, s45) health issues and even suicide, like the Canadian 15-year-old whereby the materials are categorized as “indecent images of Amanda Todd (Wolf, 2012). There is an increasing body of children.” evidence to suggest that risk taking behaviors may be more Consequently, to make, send, upload, possess, dissemi- likely in adolescents, particularly when social and emotional nate, or view images of an adolescent who may be consid- arousal are high (Blakemore & Robbins, 2012). Horvath ered sexually explicit is a criminal offense. Adolescents can et al.’s (2013) evidence review pointed to a range of increased thus break the law if they produce such images of themselves risky behaviors linked to amplified online pornography or of a partner under 18 and/or if they were to send such an viewing among adolescents. Valkenburg and Peter (2007, image of a child to someone else. However, guidance pro- 2009, 2011) conducted several studies between 2007 and duced by the CPS makes it clear that when images are shared 2011 on the question of whether online pornography viewing consensually between teenage intimates, a prosecution has affected adolescents. Their findings are summarized in Horvath et al. (2013) thus: Exposure to sexually explicitly would be very unlikely. Instead, a warning about future online movies led to greater perceptions of women as sex behavior is issued, alongside health and online safety guide- objects; if young people viewed sex in online pornography as lines, although it remains unclear how consensual sharing is realistic they were more likely to believe that casual/hedo- judged in court (CPS, 2018). nistic sex was more normal than that in loving and stable Before smartphones and tablets, adolescents used parents’ relationships; finally, increased viewing of online pornogra- desktop computers, domestic laptops, or devices at school to phy led to greater sexual uncertainty in the child, that is, a access the internet (Davidson & Martellozzo, 2013). Less lack of clarity about their sexual beliefs and values. than a decade later, things have changed dramatically. Almost Cultural and media studies theorists have controversially ubiquitous Wi-Fi now provides unchained internet access proposed that children are becoming increasingly desensi- away from the home and from parental supervision. In the tized to the presence of pornography, due to an increasing United Kingdom, 79% of 12- to 15-year-olds had a smart- sexualization of the cultural milieu—especially through a phone in 2016 (Ofcom, 2016) and although the range of saturation of mainstream mass medias by pseudo-porno- devices varied by socioeconomic group, there were no dif- graphic elements. Writers such as Brian McNair (2013) have ferences demonstrated in rates of smartphone ownership argued that television shows, music, fashion, and films have (Hartley, 2008). become imbued with “Porno Chic.” By this, the writer pro- The internet is replete with explicit, easily accessible, posed that increasingly sexualized tropes have now perme- sexual content, as evidenced by checking, the world’s most ated the mass media via “the pornosphere,” which is being popular pornography websites in 2018, where an array of consumed and viewed by children. Consequently, this has platforms such as PornHub etc., run by the Canadian com- led to erotic and risqué imagery being perceived as a norma- pany MindGeek, was the 29th most popular, and this excludes tive state of being for children to view while growing up. The the sexually explicit content accessed by popular sites like argument is further developed by Paasonen et al. (2007), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat who argued that children’s perceptions of what is normal (Alexa, 2018). It has been estimated that proportions of male have become warped through the “Pornogrification” of adolescents’ viewing pornography can be as high as 83% to mainstream mass media. The parallel arguments of McNair 100%, and 45% to 80% for females, although frequency of Martellozzo et al. 3 and Paasonen et al. (2007) are amplified for children more analysis of fieldwork data for the participants: 11 to 12, 13 to than adults, where online social media networks and photo- 14, and 15 to 16. A large scale, quantitative, online survey sharing apps have been in the vanguard of the spread of a (Stage 2), was book-ended by qualitative online forums and toxic Pornosphere, or Pornogrification process. focus groups in Stages 1 and 3 (Creswell, 2009). The design thus encompassed individually completed, wide ranging atti- tudinal data, supplemented by depth and richness of adoles- Defining Online Pornography cents’ experiences, considered within online group The literature demonstrates inconsistencies in definitions of discussions (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2005). The three “sexting” or of pornography itself and it is to the definition research stages comprised the following: of pornography that this article now turns. For the current research, an age-appropriate, suitably accessible definition Stage 1: An online discussion forum and four online focus of pornography was developed, and pilot tested in Stage 1. It groups, conducted with 34 young people. These groups was subsequently adopted for all fieldwork conducted: were split by age, but not by gender (18 females, 16 males). By pornography, we mean images and films of people having Stage 2: An anonymous online survey, with quantitative sex or behaving sexually online. This includes semi-naked and and qualitative components, implemented across the four naked images and films of people that you may have viewed or U.K. nations. One thousand seventeen young people downloaded from the internet, or that someone else shared with started the survey, with 1,001 being included in the final you directly, or showed to you on their phone or computer. analyses of whom 472 (47%) were male, 522, (52%) were female, and seven (1%) did not identify in a binary man- ner. The final sample was representative of the United Research Questions Kingdom’s 11- to 16-year-olds in terms of socioeconomic This article intends to respond to the following four research status, ethnicity, and gender. questions: Stage 3: Six online focus groups were conducted; these groups were stratified by age and gender and had 40 par- Research Question 1: Are there differences in attitudes, ticipants (21 females, 19 males). behavior, and device use to access adult pornography, between different age groups and gender of children and Materials and Analysis young people in viewing online adult pornography? Research Question 2: How do the attitudes toward online There were age-specific variations whereby some of the adult pornography of children and young people change more intrusive questions were not used with the youngest following multiple exposures to online adult participants (11-12 years) and language was kept age- pornography? appropriate. Research Question 3: To what degree does seeing online The investigation employed a Delphi style approach adult pornography influence children and young people’s between the three stages, in which the findings of one stage own sexual behavior? were checked and verified—both in terms of data reliability Research Question 4: To what degree is risky online and by comparison with the literature—by the research team, sexual behavior by children and young people influenced then by application to the next stage in the cycle (Hsu & by their previous exposure to online adult pornography? Sandford, 2007). Therefore, Stages 2 and 3 furnished an ele- ment of methodological triangulation to the study (Denzin, 2012). Method The data reported in this article have been extracted and Originally commissioned by the NSPCC and the OCC, and analyzed from all three stages of the research. The Stages 1 carried out by a team from Middlesex University, during late and 3 focus groups/forums were run online, generating ver- 2015 and early 2016, it comprised the largest study of the batim transcripts that are drawn on below. Focus group find- way in which adolescents respond to sexual images they ings were scrutinized using a mixed application of analytic have seen online and via social media. Participants were induction, constant comparison, and thematic data analysis recruited with the aid of the specialist survey company (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Smith & Firth, 2011). Research Bods, drawing on preexisting school and family panels. Additional steps were taken as part of the recruitment Ethics process to ensure that safeguarding and child welfare were at the forefront of recruitment (see “Ethics”). The three research stages were approved by the Middlesex A three-stage mixed methods design was used with a total University Department of Law ethics committee and con- of 1,072 adolescents aged 11 to 16 recruited from across the formed to ethical guidance of the British Sociological United Kingdom. Three age bandings were used in the Association. A careful threshold for safeguarding was 4 SAGE Open adopted, taking a precautionary stance whereby child protec- 19 (4%) young people were encountering pornography daily. tion encompassed both safeguarding and prevention of harm The 476 participants also reported that they had first seen the while also avoiding unnecessarily criminalizing adolescents. material on the following devices: 38% from a portable com- No personal identifying details were collected on the sur- puter (Laptop, iPad, Notebook, etc.); 33% from a hand-held vey and participants in the online forums/focus groups used device (e.g., iPhone, Android, Windows smartphone, only first names (either their own or a self-generated pseud- Blackberry, etc.); 24% from a desktop computer (Mac, PC, onym). They were actively discouraged from giving out any etc.); 2% from a gaming device (e.g., Xbox, PlayStation, personal details. A Participant Information Sheet (PIS) was Nintendo, etc.); while 3% preferred not to say. Just under provided to all adolescents taking part in the investigation, to half of the sample (476/48%) had seen online pornography, their primary caregiver, school, and other gatekeepers. If and of them, 47% (n = 209) reported having actively young people also agreed to take part in the research, then searched for it, leaving about half again who had seen such information about the study, how to consent, withdraw, and material without actively seeking it: finding it involuntarily the processes of safeguarding were reiterated before they through, for example, an unwanted pop-up, or by being participated. shown it/sent it by someone else. Respondents participating in the online forum/focus groups More boys (56%) report having seen pornography than were reminded at the beginning of each session that they could girls (40%). There was a gender disparity between the gen- leave the online platform at any time. In the online survey, ders intentionally seeking out online pornography, with 59% each subsection included an option to “exit,” that could be (n = 155/264) of males reporting doing so, but only 25% clicked at any time, and led to a withdrawal page featuring (n = 53/210) of females; and 6% (n = 28/n = 1,001) pre- contact information for relevant support organizations. ferred not to say. Potential gender differences in the rates of seeking out pornography were also explored during the focus groups. Findings and Analysis The qualitative findings from Stages 1 and 3 are consistent This section explores the findings of the fieldwork in the fol- with the quantitative data (from the online Stage 1 question- lowing key areas: Survey data are drawn on to report the naire) considered above. For example, a common answer extent of adolescent viewing of online (adult) pornography in given by male respondents was that they actively searched the United Kingdom, within the age bands 11 to 12, 13 to 14, for online pornography: and 15 to 16, and gender differences between these catego- ries; an outline of the devices the responding adolescents used With friends as a joke. (Male, 14) to view/access the material; consideration of the reactions of respondents when they first viewed online pornography; and Yeah, we all do. (Male, 13) their changing reactions upon seeing it later in their lives and respondents’ attitudes toward online pornography. The quali- However, none of the girls made similar statements. tative stages were drawn on to provide some indication of the degree to which seeing online adult pornography had either Adolescents’ Responses influenced young people’s own sexual behavior or changed their attitudes toward potential sexual partners’ behaviors, The contrast between reactions to first viewing and responses usually from a heterosexual perspective. to current viewing of online pornography among the 476 Finally, the research explored the extent of risky online who had initially seen it and 227 who reported currently sexual behavior by respondents, and whether this was influ- viewing it are laid out in Tables 1 and 2. enced by the online pornography that had been previously Before interpreting these findings further, it is worth not- viewed. ing the low number of adolescents who continue to see por- nography. Of those who reported still seeing pornography, curiosity declined as a response from 41% to 30%. This is The Extent of Adolescents Viewing of Online predictable as adolescents became more familiar with the Pornography in the United Kingdom sexual material. Other effects are extremely mixed and The survey found that 48% (n = 476) had seen online por- change radically between first viewing and current reactions. nography, and 52% had not (n = 525). The older the respon- Of the negative effects, “shocked” declined from 27% to 8%; dent group, the more likely they were to have seen “confused,” 24% to 4%; “disgusted,” 23% to 13%; “ner- pornography (65% of 15-16; 46% of 13-14, and 28% of vous,” 21% to 15%; “sick,” 11% to 7%; “scared,” 11% to 11-12). There is a clear rising trend evident, with 46% (n = 3%; and “upset,” 6% to 3%. 248) of 11- to 16-year-olds who had ever seen online pornog- The negative survey reactions were reinforced by the fol- raphy (n = 476) being exposed to it by 14 years. lowing statements made in Stages 1 and 3: Of the 476 respondents who had seen online pornography, 34% (n = 161) reported seeing it once a week or more. Only Sometimes [I feel] disgusted—other times alright. (Male, 13) Martellozzo et al. 5 Table 1. Current Feelings. Table 2. Initial Feelings. Feelings n % Feelings n % Turned on 111 48.9 Curious 196 41.1 Curious 69 30.4 Shocked 126 26.5 Excited 52 22.9 Confused 116 24.4 Happy 42 18.5 Disgusted 107 22.5 Sexy 37 16.3 Nervous 100 21.0 Nervous 33 14.5 Turned on 83 17.4 Disgusted 29 12.8 Ashamed 54 11.3 Ashamed 26 11.5 Excited 54 11.3 Shocked 19 8.4 Sick 51 10.7 Sick 16 7.0 Scared 50 10.5 Unhappy 12 5.3 Upset 29 6.1 Confused 10 4.4 Happy 24 5.0 Scared 7 3.1 Sexy 21 4.4 Upset 6 2.6 Unhappy 21 4.4 Note. The subsample included 227 participants who had responded to this Note. The subsample included 476 participants who had responded to this question. Each category is not mutually exclusive. question. Each category is not mutually exclusive. A bit uncomfortable because of the way they act in the videos. changes, for example, comparing “turned on” on first view- (Male, 14) ing with “turned on” still shows that 55 adolescents who did not report being turned on originally do report it on contin- Bad for watching it. Like I shouldn’t really be seeing it. (Female, ued viewing, χ (1, N = 227) = 44.16, p < .01, Phi = .44. 14) However, on testing for differences between the respondents for current viewing, it also became clear that 207 of those Such findings can be interpreted in several ways. First, young people who were not turned on originally did not some adolescents who had negative reactions on first view- report still seeing pornography, another significant differ- ing pornography take additional steps to not see it again (and 2 ence, χ (1, N = 476) = 43.12, p < .01, Phi = .30. In other may thus not appear in the current viewing data). Second, words, more adolescents who did not report being turned on some may have become desensitized to the sexually explicit avoided pornography than went on to enjoy it. material they are seeing, or they may have built greater resil- ience to the more unpleasant aspects of the pornographic Cognitive Responses by Adolescents content. These ideas may not be mutually exclusive. Some of the adolescents’ statements in the forum/focus groups would The respondents were asked to evaluate most of the online appear to support these suppositions: pornography they had seen, in terms of 14 different feelings/ categories, using a 5-point Likert-type scale. The overall Definitely different. At first, it might’ve shocked me but due to results were extremely varied. For example, the largest pro- the increasing use of sex and sexual themes in the media and portional response is “unrealistic,” with 49% stating that music videos, I’ve grown a sort of resistance against it, I don’t they agreed with this assessment; but other statements with feel disgusted or turned on. (Female, 13-14) which sizable proportions of the young people agreed, include that pornography is “arousing” (47%), “shocking,” 1st time was strange—I didn’t really know what to think. But (46%) and “exciting” (40%). It is important to keep in mind now it’s kinda normal; sex isn’t as taboo. (Male, 13-14) that none of these categories are mutually exclusive and that it is entirely possible for a young person to both be aroused At first, I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it, my mates have and troubled by the adult-content they view. talked about watching it so I don’t feel bad watching it now. (Male, 15-16) The critical awareness necessary for some adolescents to resist potential negative effects of online pornography may be inferred by data that 36% of viewers found the content Tables 1 and 2 also demonstrate potentially more positive “silly” and 34% “amusing.” Both these figures outstripping reactions to online explicit content, or at least reactions that reactions like “repulsive/revolting” 30%, “scary” 23%, or may be more consistent with sexual maturation, for example, “upsetting” 21% and 20% labeling it “boring.” However, “turned on” advanced from 17% to 49%; “excited,” 11% to girls’ anxieties about whether boys delineate between the 23%; “happy,” 5% to 19%; and finally “sexy,” 4% to 16%. fantasy of online pornography and the reality of adult sexual On first examination, these are statistically significant 6 SAGE Open Table 3. Online Pornography Has Given Me Ideas About Types Table 4. Online Pornography Has Given Me Ideas About Types of Sex to Try Out. of Sex to Try Out by Gender. Yes (%) No (%) Yes (%) No (%) 11-12 years (n = 79) 21 79 Male (n = 241) 44 56 13-14 years (n = 149) 39 61 Female (n = 195) 29 71 15-16 years (n = 215) 42 58 Note. χ (1, N = 436) = 10.75, p < .01, Phi = .16. Note. χ (2, N = 437) = 10.84, p < .01, Phi = .16. although in all age groups, more young people did not relations is also clear from the following statements taken endorse this idea than those who agreed with it. from focus groups: Statistically significant gender differences were also found in response to the same question. Some 44% (106/241) It teaches people about sex and what it is like to have it—but I of males, compared with 29% (56/195) of females, reported think it teaches people a fake understanding of sex—what we that the online pornography they had seen gave them ideas see on these videos isn’t what actually happens in real life. about the types of sex they wanted to try out. Again, it is wise (Female, 14) to exercise caution when interpreting this finding, particu- larly as gender roles in initiating or engaging in sexual activ- Yes and can learn bad things like watching anal sex and then ity may be at play here, both in terms of young people’s some boys might expect anal sex with their partner. (Female, 13) beliefs and how these were disclosed in the research. The focus group findings from Stage 3 were broadly con- It should be noted that focus groups provided little evi- sistent with these data. When male respondents were asked dence of actually seeing, or hearing, of troubling behavior whether they knew anyone who had tried something they occurring. Only one respondent indicated that saw in online pornography, they stated, One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the Yes. She tried kinky things—like tying to the bed and Punishing. videos—not major—just a slap here or there. (Male, 13) (Male, 13) Yes, they tried to have sexual intercourse. (Male, 14) Emulating Behaviors Although there was little direct evidence about experience of When the question became more personal (“Has pornogra- emulating fantasies, the idea that things seen in pornography phy ever made you think about trying out something you could be tried out, did emerge frequently during the online have seen?”), most respondents said no, with very few focus groups with the older groups (13-14; 15-16). When exceptions: asked about what the risks may be from watching online pornography: Occasionally—yes. (Male, 13) People may try things that can lead to harm. (Male, 13) Made me think but not actually do it. (Female, 13) People will try to copy what they see. (Female, 11) If me and my partner like it then we did more but if one of us didn’t like it we didn’t carry on. (Male, 15-16) It’s give a unrealistic view of sex and our bodies makes us self- conscious and question why are bodies are not developed like When asked in the stage two online survey, if seeing online what we see online. (Female, 13) pornography had “. . . led me to believe that women should act in certain ways during sex,” of 393 responses: 16% of 15- These findings also emerged from the online questionnaire to 16-year-olds either agreed/strongly agreed, while 24% of as presented on Tables 3 and 4. 13- to 14-year-olds did. Conversely, 54% of 15- to 16-year- Statistically significant age differences were found in olds disagreed/strongly disagreed with the statement, and response to the question, “Has the online pornography that 40% of 13- to 14-year-olds. When the question was flipped to you have seen given you ideas about the types of sex you whether seeing online pornography had “. . . led me to believe want to try out?” Of the 437 respondents, 90 of the 15- to that men should act in certain ways during sex”: 18% of 15- 16-year-old group (42%) reported that online pornography to 16-year-olds either agreed/strongly agreed, while 23% of has given them ideas of wanting to act out sexual practices; 13- to 14-year-olds did. Conversely, 54% of 15- to 16-year- 58 of the 13- to 14-year-old group (39%) and 15 of the 11- to olds disagreed/strongly disagreed with the statement, and 12-year-old group (21%). This may be related to the greater 40% of 13- to 14-year-olds (again, 393 answered). likelihood of sexual activity as they reach the age of consent, Martellozzo et al. 7 These findings provide evidence of some adolescents’ Working with young people, we are finding that sexting increasingly feels like a norm in terms of behaviour in their peer assimilation of ideas from online pornography about male group. (Weale, 2015) and female expected behaviors during physical sex. What the data cannot tell us is whether the concepts that they are assimilating relate to safe, considerate, mutually enjoyable During the online focus groups, the adolescents who com- sexual activities with a consenting partner; or coercive, abu- mented seemed to interpret “sexting” more as writing and sive, violent, exploitative, degrading, and potentially harm- sharing explicit messages with people they knew, rather than ful or illegal sex. Here too, we cannot know whether their sending nude images of others, or of their own body, in full ideas would change with experience. However, consistent or part (Jaishankar, 2009). Indeed, it has been argued that with points made earlier about repeated viewing, the oldest adolescents use an entirely different nomenclature for visual, cohort (15-16) believed that the influence of online pornog- rather than textual messages, including, “dodgy-pix,” raphy on shaping their views on how men and women ought “nudes,” or “nude-selfies” (Weale, 2015). to behave during sex is reduced, by −8% for women’s behav- The Stage 2 online survey revealed that most adolescents ior and −5% for men’s. did not create or send naked self-generated images and this Participants in the online forum and focus groups gener- finding is supported by recent survey research undertaken in ally expressed negative views and anxieties about how three EU countries with young people (Webster et al., 2014). watching online pornography might affect adolescents’ per- Within the current survey, 135 boys and girls reported pro- ceptions of normal/acceptable male and female roles in a ducing topless pictures of themselves (13% of the 948 who sexual encounter: answered) and 27 (3% of those answering) had taken fully naked pictures of themselves. Potentially more concerning is Well you see what is happening in porn and you almost get that just over half of those who produced naked or seminaked worried about other peoples relationships and it puts me off images (74/135 or 55%) had then shared them, by either having any future relationships as it is very male dominated and physically showing the images to someone else, or transmit- not romantic or trusting—or promoting good relationships. ting those images online to one or more contacts. (Female, 13) Those reporting having taken a fully naked image of themselves constituted under 3% of the entire sample It would put pressure to do things you don’t feel comfortable (27/1,001) and this does not mean that they then proceeded with. (Female, 14) to share the images. However, the survey also asked respon- dents why they created naked and seminaked pictures of They (boys) become a different person—and begin to think that themselves? Sixty-nine percent (93/135) reported that they it is alright to act and behave in such ways. The way they talk to wanted to do so, although 20% (27/135) did not. The latter others changes as well. When they look at a girl they probably only thinking of that one thing—which isn’t how women should figure is potentially a safeguarding concern, with one-in-five be looked at. (Male, 14) self-taken naked/seminaked pictures of adolescents, seeming to derive some form of external pressure or coercion. Some 36% of adolescents, who took naked or seminaked Adolescents Sharing Sexually Explicit Material self-generated photographs (49/135), reported that they had Online been asked to show these images to someone online. When asked whether they knew the person to whom they showed Online pornography’s ubiquity is facilitated by the ease and the images, 61% of those who shared images (30/49) replied speed with which it can be self-generated and shared. Most that they did, indicating that most of these images probably young people in this sample had neither received nor sent remained localized within the child-producer’s social circle, explicit material; however, 26% (258/1,001) of respondents or a boyfriend/girlfriend, at least initially. However, 25 ado- had received online pornography/links, whether or not they lescents (2.5% of the sample) stated that they had sent a pic- had requested them. Far lower proportions reported that they ture of themselves performing a sexual act to an online had ever sent pornographic material to someone else, at 4% contact, something that is both more serious in terms of the (40/918), although the researchers were aware that some image content and more likely to be passed-on more widely. “senders” may be more reluctant to acknowledge this than When asked whether respondents had ever seen images of “recipients.” a naked body or intimate body part of someone they knew, Readers are reminded that sexual and eroticized or fully 73 (8% of those who answered) had seen such an image of a or partially naked photographs of adolescents below 18 are close friend, 15% (144/961) had seen that of an acquain- illegal to possess, send, or receive in the United Kingdom, tance, 3% (31/961) saw images of their partners, and 8% although it is not normally the policy of the CPS to prosecute (77/961) of someone they knew as an online only contact. In these cases for teenage intimates (CPS, 2018). However, the online forums/focus groups, most adolescents seemed to “sexting” has become something of a media trope in part evidence a highly developed critical awareness of some of fuelled by statements from the police such as, 8 SAGE Open the possible negative ramifications of sending a naked 2015). The role of pressure/coercion from boyfriends/girl- “selfie” to an online contact: friends to send self-generated sexualized images also needs to be acknowledged in this process, alongside voluntary Your rep will be ruined. (Male, 14) sending of images or conversely, deception and lies from the intended recipient. They could save it. And its illegal as its classed as distribution of child pornography if your under 18—even if its yourself. (Male, Summary and Concluding Discussion 13) Social Policy Implications in Britain You have no control over it once sent. (Female, 13) As this research has shown, the exposure to explicit content If you send it to one person—the entire school will have seen it can harm children and young people’s perception of sex, by the next day. (Female, 16) healthy relationships, and how they view their own bodies. During the course of this study, some children and young These findings from our three stages of fieldwork into U.K. people asked explicitly for help and support, whether through adolescents aged 11 to 16 can be compared with those from education and/or some form of blocking the access to unde- a recently published major research study by the Child sired materials. It is therefore undoubtful that some robust Exploitation and Online Protection command (CEOP), who regulations are needed to protect children and young people found that 34% of 2,315 respondents aged 14 to 24 had sent from accessing online pornography. a nude or sexual image of themselves to someone they were In the United Kingdom, the Government announced plans sexually interested in, and that 52% had received a similar to restrict young people’s access to online pornography image from someone who had sent it of themselves, with through the introduction of compulsory Age Verification (AV). males scoring at 55% and females at 45%. When these data The legal basis for this was contained in the United Kingdom’s were filtered to include only 14- to 17-year-olds, then the recent Part Three of the Digital Economy Act, 2017 (DCMS, corresponding figures were 26% who had sent an image, 2016). The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), while 48% had received one of the senders (McGeeney & which provides age certificates for films, was the selected Hanson, 2017). organization to act as the regulator for the new regime. It was The motivations of young people in taking and sending anticipated that the new policy would work principally through sexualized naked/seminaked images of their bodies/body payments providers and advertisers threatening to break off all parts are complex and could encompass a mixture of many dealings with noncompliant sites; for example, porn publish- different influences, including sexual gratification via an ers that refused to introduce age verification, but the BBFC online sexual encounter; deception, whereby an adult may be had a residual power to oblige access providers to block access using an avatar to inveigle images out of adolescents poten- in the same way they do sites known to contain child sex abuse tially leading to “sextortion,” as in the Amanda Todd case material (Tempterton, 2016). (Wolf, 2012). Swapping images is also a recognized tactic of This would have been the first universal “porn-block” on online child-groomers, in their campaign to meet-up with the internet in the world but, at the very last moment, the their targets to perpetrate contact Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Government announced that the commencement of age veri- (Martellozzo & Jane, 2017). Some adolescents may be fication for porn sites would be delayed, possibly indefintely indulging in sexual exhibitionism with online contacts, and a (Waterson, 2019). Up until this point, the UK government very common motivation is the “private” exchange of nude/ had already spent £2 million on failing to implement the seminude selfies with established relationship partners much delayed measure (Hern, 2019). However, in delivering (Martellozzo & Jane, 2017). this message, Nicky Morgan MP (now a Baroness), the Behind all these potential drivers of risky sexual online Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, behavior, may lie factors such as the modern market-satura- stated that in the Government’s new and expanded vision for tion of smartphones, the influence of the mass media and policy in this area, she anticipates the: culture, and the possibility of adolescents being inculcated into a world of new social online medias, which may be UK becoming a world-leader in the development of online imbued with cultural “Pornification,” or “Pornogrification” safety technology and to ensure companies of all sizes have (Allen & Carmody, 2012; McNair, 2013; Paasonen et al., access to, and adopt, innovative solutions to improve the safety 2007). There is also the widely held assumption in the mass of their users. This includes age verification tools and we expect them to continue to play a key role in protecting children online. media that younger adults and adolescents live in a “selfie- (Johnston, 2019) nation” obsessed with snapping everything and posting the results online. Ofcom published survey data indicating that 31% of adults had taken at least one selfie in 2014, while Although the delay is disappointing, it is critical that the 10% admitted to taking at least 10 a week (Press Association, modus operandi utilized to protect children and young Martellozzo et al. 9 people from unnecessary exposure works effectively. The online safety, could counter many negative impacts on ado- issue will now be addressed under the U.K. governments’ lescents by providing information and education on the topic broader Online Harms White Paper, which has now closed that is appropriately age-tailored, and that does not leave for consultations (Gov.co.uk, 2019): adolescents to construct maladaptive coping strategies. Instead, the government would instead focus on measures to Finally, we raise the issue of “Adolescents” Rights to protect children in the much broader Online Harms White Paper. comprehensive, informative, educational awareness of the This is expected to introduce a new internet regulator, which many issues and dangers surrounding their engagement with will impose a duty of care on all websites and social media online adult pornography, as part of a focus on their wider outlets—not just pornography sites. online safety, security, digital privacy, and health. Young people’s needs for good quality relationships education and Furthermore, the forthcoming introduction of compulsory improved digital literacy, wherever they live, could be nega- Relationship and Sexual Education (RSE) in all schools in tively impacted by potential obstructions such as the content England and Wales for both sex and digital safety/literacy of the RSE curriculum; a refusal by some schools to teach (from September 2020), under the Children and Social Work about sexual behavior or other relationships at all; the profes- Act, 2017, could potentially enhance the preparation of ado- sional skills of those teachers/trainers designated to deliver lescents for when they do see sexually explicit material online. new content; or whether parents can withdraw their adoles- However, this law does not explicitly refer to internet issues, cents on religious or moral grounds from current provision, but it is hoped that schools will cover the subject. Furthermore, where it exists. There is thus a need to balance parental rights the U.K. Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) with duties to prepare adolescents for their future lives, ide- Education Group has produced detailed guidelines to assist ally allowing them to benefit from lessons on digital health, and enable schools to develop online safety policy and prac- safety, security, and sexual health. tice, by using an approach that includes parents and the wider community (UKCCIS, 2017). There is also an industry stan- Limitations of the Data Set dard Publicly Available Specification (PAS no1296) that has been developed by the Digital Policy Alliance (Vigras, 2016), A few limitations in the data set were evident. First, a deci- regarding what should be a “reasonable” means by which sion was taken to invite only adolescents aged 11 to 16. businesses can provide such verification. However, the stan- Seventeen- and 18-year-olds were excluded as the age of dard has yet to be formally implemented. consent in the United Kingdom is 16 and this was consid- The government’s Internet Safety Strategy (2018) Green ered a threshold which made them different, both legally Paper launched a consultation which reported in May 2018. and experientially than those up to age 16. Under 11-year- This produced a three pronged response: First, new online olds were excluded as this is the threshold for entry to sec- safety laws are to be created to make sure the United ondary school and the additional ethical and methodological Kingdom is the safest place in the world to be online; second, strictures posed by such research with young adolescents their response to the Internet Safety Strategy consultation; were beyond the scope and resources of this project. Finally, and third, the government was to collaborate with industry, a caveat to be aware of was that proportionate numbers of charities, and the public on a White Paper. This Online adolescents from Northern Ireland were not attained in the Harms White Paper has now closed for consultation, and the sample, due to school gatekeepers’ reluctance to engage. policy intentions of the U.K. government, based on its find- Many in the world were eager to see how the online “Porn ings, are awaited. The last update on this forthcoming publi- Block” with Age Verification was going to work, to both cation was published in June 2019 (Gov.co.uk, 2019). emulate it and improve upon it. Its total collapse in the United Kingdom, with a concomitant loss of time, money, and pres- tige, leaves the thorny question of how adolescents can be International Implications protected from the threats of online harm, from some aspects of internet pornography, open to question. Research into an The issue of pornography being hosted in jurisdictions which effective way of achieving this goal, while balancing the do not require age verification is further compounded by requirements to provide age-appropriate sex and relationship TOR (The Onion Browser) and similar means (e.g., Virtual education, with digital health, safety, and security informa- Private Networks [VPNs]) to anonymously access “the dark tion, has become a paramount concern for all those who seek web..” Adolescents who want to access digital services, to protect children from the rising tide of online harms. including pornography, without paying or verifying their age, could possibly use routes that allow untraceable, poten- tially encrypted access to websites that may also be offering Acknowledgments illegal drugs, images of CSA, bestiality, or guns, and so We acknowledge our colleagues Dr. Miranda Horvath, co-PI of the forth. (Chen, 2011). Raising the issues surrounding online research, and Dr. Rodolfo Leyva for their assistance throughout the pornography at school, as part of relationships or citizenship project. We thank Dr. Miranda Horvath and Dr. Rodolfo Leyva for education, under the remit of improving sexual health and their contributions to this research. 10 SAGE Open Declaration of Conflicting Interests Information, Communication & Society, 16(9), 1456–1476. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2012.701655 The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect DCMS. (2016). Digital economy bill part 3: Online pornography. to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-econ- omy-bill-part-3-online-pornography Funding Denzin, N. K. (2012). Triangulation 2.0. Journal of Mixed The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support Methods Research, 6(2), 80–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/155 for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by the NSPCC and the Office of the Gov.co.uk. (2019, April 8). Online harms white paper. https:// Children’s Commissioner (OCC) for England. www.gov.uk/government/consultations/online-harms-white- paper The Government’s Internet Safety Strategy. (2018). Internet safety Ethical Approval strategy green paper. https://www.gov.uk/government/consul- The research was conducted in accordance with the British tations/internet-safety-strategy-green-paper Sociological Association ethical codes of conduct and approved by Hartley, J. (2008). Television truths: Forms of knowledge in popu- the Psychology Department ethics committee. lar culture. John Wiley. Hern, A. (2019, October 24). Government spent £2m on porn block ORCID iDs before policy was dropped. The Guardian. https://www.the- guardian.com/uk-news/2019/oct/24/government-spent-2m-on- Andrew Monaghan https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8811-6910 porn-block-before-policy-was-dropped Joanna Adler https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2973-8503 Horvath, M. A., Alys, L., Massey, K., Pina, A., Scally, M., & Adler, J. R. (2013). “Basically . . . porn is everywhere”: A rapid evi- Notes dence assessment on the effects that access and exposure to 1. TOR—an encrypted web browser that is now freely available, pornography has on children and young people. https://kar. designed by the U.S. military which makes users untraceable. kent.ac.uk/44763/ 2. The Dark Web contains encrypted hidden websites only avail- Hsu, C., & Sandford, B. A. (2007). The Delphi technique: Making able on TOR, often illicit in nature, while the Deep Web con- sense of consensus. Practical Assessment, Research and tains mostly legitimate websites that are hidden from browser Evaluation, 12(10), 1–8. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1efd/ searchers, such as company HR Records, financial records, d53a1965c2fbf9f5e2d26c239e85b0e7b1ba.pdf and government data. Jaishankar, K. (2009). Sexting: A new form of victimless crime? International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 3(1), 21–25. http://www.cybercrimejournal.com/editorialijccdjan2009.htm References Johnston, J. (2019). Government drops plan for age-verification Allen, L., & Carmody, M. (2012). “Pleasure has no passport”: for adult websites. https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/ Re-visiting the potential of pleasure in sexuality education. Sex news/government-drops-plan-age-verification-adult-websites Education, 12(4), 455–468. 10.1080/14681811.2012.677208 Martellozzo, E., & Jane, E. (2017). Cybercrime and its victims. Alexa.com. (2018). The top 500 sites on the web. https://www. Routledge. alexa.com/topsites McGeeney, E., & Hanson, E. (2017). A research project exploring Blakemore, S., & Robbins, T. W. (2012). Decision-making in the young people’s use of technology in their romantic relationships adolescent brain. Nature Neuroscience, 15(9), 1184–1191. and love lives. A National Crime Agency and Brook. https:// https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3177 www.basw.co.uk/system/files/resources/basw_85054-7.pdf Bowlin, J. W. (2013). kNOw sextortion: The facts of digital black- McNair, B. (2013). Porno? Chic! How pornography changed the mail and what you can do to protect yourself. Scotts Valley, world and made it a better place. Routledge. CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Ofcom. (2016). Online overtakes TV as kids’ top pastime. https:// Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychol- www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/features-and-news/ ogy. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. https:// childrens-media-use doi.org/10.1038/nn.3177 Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Leech, N. L. (2005). On becoming a prag- Chen, H. (2011). Dark web: Exploring and data mining the dark matic researcher: The importance of combining quantitative side of the web. Springer Science & Business Media. and qualitative research methodologies. International Journal Creswell, J. W. (2009). Mapping the field of mixed methods of Social Research Methodology, 8(5), 375–387. https://doi. research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 3, 95–108. org/10.1080/13645570500402447 Crown Prosecution Service. (2017). Extreme pornography. https:// Paasonen, S., Nikunen, K., & Saarenmaa, L. (2007). Pornification: www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/extreme-pornography Sex and sexuality in media culture. Berg Publishers. Crown Prosecution Service. (2018). Social media: Guidelines on Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social sexually explicit online material and recreational attitudes media. https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/social-media- toward sex. Journal of Communication, 56(4), 639–660. guidelines-prosecuting-cases-involving-communications- https://doi.org/10.1080/15213260801994238 sent-social-media Press Association. (2015, August 6). Selfie nation: Britons take Davidson, J., & Martellozzo, E. (2013). Exploring young people’s own picture 1.2bn times a year. The Guardian. https://www. use of social networking sites and digital media in the inter- theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/aug/06/selfie-nation-britons- net safety context: A comparison of the UK and Bahrain. take-own-picture-12bn-times-a-year Martellozzo et al. 11 Smith, J., & Firth, J. (2011). Qualitative data analysis: The frame- www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/10/sexting-becom- work approach. Nurse Researcher, 18(2), 52–62. https://doi. ing-the-norm-for-teens-warn-child-protection-experts org/10.7748/nr2011.01.18.2.52.c8284 Webster, S., Davidson, J., & Bifulco, A. (2014). Online offending Stanley, N., Barter, C., Wood, M., Aghtaie, N., Larkins, C., Lanau, behaviour and child victimisation: New findings and policy. A., & Överlien, C. (2018). Pornography, sexual coercion and Palgrave Macmillan. abuse and sexting in young people’s intimate relationships: A Wolf, N. (2012, October). Amanda Todd’s suicide and social European study. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(19), media’s sexualisation of youth culture. The Guardian. https:// 2919–2944. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260516633204 www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/26/amanda- Tempterton, J. (2016, November). UK government plans to block todd-suicide-social-media-sexualisation porn sites that don’t provide age-checks. Wired. https://www. wired.co.uk/article/porn-age-verification-checks-digital-econ- Author Biographies omy-act-uk-government Elena Martellozzo is a criminologist at Middlesex University and UK Council for Child Internet Safety. (2017). https://www.gov. specializes in sex offenders’ behavior, their use of the internet, and uk/government/groups/uk-council-for-child-internet-safety- child safety. She has worked extensively with children and young ukccis#ukccis-members people, serious offenders, and practitioners for over 15 years. Her Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Preadolescents’ and ado- work includes exploring children and young people online behavior lescents’ online communication and their closeness to friends. and risks, the analysis of sexual grooming, online sexual exploita- Developmental Psychology, 43(2), 267–277. https://doi. tion, and police practice in the area of online child sexual abuse. org/10.1037/0012-1649.43.2.267 Andrew Monaghan is a criminologist at Middlesex University and Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). Social consequences of his area of expertise is self-generated images, online pornography, the internet for adolescents: A decade of research. Current and online risks. He is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher Directions in Psychological Science, 18(1), 1–5. https://doi. on the Horizon 2020 Project, an EU-wide research study that is org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01595.x investigating the causes of international terrorism and organized Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2011). Online communication crime. among adolescents: An integrated model of its attraction, opportunities, and risks. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(2), Julia Davidson is a professor of criminology at the University of 121–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.08.020 East London. She is one of the United Kingdom’s foremost experts Vigras, V. (2016). PAS 1296, online age checking: Code of prac- on online child abuse and serious offending. She has directed a con- tice. https://www.dpalliance.org.uk/pas-1296-online-age-che siderable amount of national and international research spanning 25 cking-code-of-practice/ years. Waterson, J. (2019, October 16). UK drops plans for online por- nography age verification system. The Guardian. https://www. Joanna Adler is a professor of psychology at the University of theguardian.com/culture/2019/oct/16/uk-drops-plans-for-online- Hertfordshire. She works closely with practitioners and those pornography-age-verification-system?CMP=fb_gu&utm_ who are involved in implementing criminal and civil justice. She medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR2_ has conducted research and evaluation in the public, private, and LemndmS1kI9RL-_E-ADDgCA9Xd0T7jBuldXfAE8yIG8g6iq voluntary sectors, alongside colleagues in the school of Health kftM1viM#Echobox=1571236161 and Education and the School of Law. Together, they have deliv- Weale, S. (2015, November). Sexting becoming “the norm” for ered work that is useful, impactful, and underpinned by academic teens, warn child protection experts. The Guardian. https:// rigor. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png SAGE Open SAGE

Researching the Affects That Online Pornography Has on U.K. Adolescents Aged 11 to 16:

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Abstract

This article considers data from a large empirical study of nearly 1,100 U.K. adolescents aged 11 to 16 (in a mixed methods three-stage sample) and provides an overview of their experiences of online adult pornography. The article investigates how seeing online pornography influenced those who watched it, and to what degree, if any, the attitudes of those adolescents altered with repeat viewings. It concludes with an overview of the social policy challenges, both domestic and international, posed by the findings. Keywords children, problematic internet use, computer-mediated communication, survey, interviews, pornography use, and a range of differential demographic variables of Information and Communications engagement with online pornography. An analysis of the Technology (ICT) and Online nature of adolescents’ engagement with online pornography Pornography is presented, that is, what they see, and how they feel about Adolescent access to online adult pornography has increased it, and how this may have changed with repeated exposure. in the last decade due to a confluence of enabling factors This article presents an initial overview of the findings, including increased use and access to internet-connected endeavoring to explore behavior and attitudes among the devices; the increased power of those same devices; the large sample of adolescents and contains no inferential pro- increased mobility of Wi-Fi-connected devices; the growth jections onto wider populations. As a piece of exploratory of increasingly portable Wi-Fi-connected devices and finally fieldwork, the results are largely left to speak for them- the widespread availability of and ease of access to online selves, rather than being used to confirm or reject extant adult pornography. This article aims to explore how the pro- theoretical stances on the influence of online pornography liferation of internet access has led to an increased viewing on adolescents. of online pornography; it also aims to ascertain the conse- Finally, the sharing of self-generated images, or “sexting” quences of this exposure for adolescents. The article begins is evaluated, including an investigation into what adolescents by laying-out laws in England and Wales relating to the aged 11 to 16 understand by the concept of “sexting” and the viewing and possession of online pornography that would be motivations, potential pressures, and extent to which young legal if viewed by people 18 years and above. It also presents people have shared naked or seminaked images of them- legislation concerning the self-creation, distribution, and selves to known or unknown others. We conclude with a dis- possession of naked/seminaked and/or sexualized images of cussion of two pressing social policy implications. adolescents below 18 years. Wi-Fi-enabled technology, such as smartphones and tablets, with powerful media capabilities and mobility are increasingly used by adolescents away from Middlesex University London, UK their homes; this is considered alongside the rise of Social University of East London, UK Networking Sites (SNSs) and image sharing applications University of Hertfordshire, UK like Snapchat and Instagram, where online pornography is Corresponding Author: ever more prevalent. Andrew Monaghan, School of Law, Middlesex University London, The Quantitative and qualitative data were blended into a Burroughs, Hendon, London NW4 4BT, UK. synthesized analysis to create an overview of the extent of Email: Andrew87@mdx.ac.uk Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open viewing such material could vary from once ever, to daily Current Debates and Evidence (Horvath et al., 2013). Recent European studies that have For the purposes of this article, adolescents are taken to be focused on viewers in the last 3 to 6 months of activity have aged 11 to 17, although other secondary researchers have produced rates of 15% to 57% for all adolescents (Horvath included 18- to 19-year-olds in their own categorizations. et al., 2013). Adolescents who have viewed, and who possess adult por- Dutch researchers Valkenburg and Peter’s (2006) study nography in the United Kingdom, have not broken any laws found that 71% of the male adolescents and 40% of the unless they view or possess extreme adult pornography (Art females (13- to 18-year-olds) had seen some form of pornog- 5, sections 63 to 67 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration raphy. More recently, Stanley et al. (2018) considered find- Act 2008). Such images include those in which a person’s ings from 4,564 young people aged 14 to 17 in five European life is threatened; those where a person’s anus, breasts, or Union (EU) countries and found that regular online pornog- genitalia are likely to suffer serious injury; and instances of raphy viewing was between 19% and 30%. necrophilia or bestiality (Crown Prosecution Service [CPS], In terms of online risky behavior, research by Bowlin 2017). However, the U.K. providers of online pornography (2013) found that up to 60% of sexually explicit short mes- may have been in breach of legislation requiring commercial sages (sometimes known as “sexts”) may be disseminated organizations like PornHub to prevent under 18-year-olds beyond the original recipient. Potential consequences for the from accessing such material. Conversely, it is illegal for child subject of the image can be devastating, whether the adolescents under the age of 18 to appear in sexually explicit image was self-generated consensually or coerced, and can images (Protection of Adolescents Act, 1978; Criminal range from intense public shame and humiliation to mental Justice Act, 1988 s160 and Sexual Offences Act 2003, s45) health issues and even suicide, like the Canadian 15-year-old whereby the materials are categorized as “indecent images of Amanda Todd (Wolf, 2012). There is an increasing body of children.” evidence to suggest that risk taking behaviors may be more Consequently, to make, send, upload, possess, dissemi- likely in adolescents, particularly when social and emotional nate, or view images of an adolescent who may be consid- arousal are high (Blakemore & Robbins, 2012). Horvath ered sexually explicit is a criminal offense. Adolescents can et al.’s (2013) evidence review pointed to a range of increased thus break the law if they produce such images of themselves risky behaviors linked to amplified online pornography or of a partner under 18 and/or if they were to send such an viewing among adolescents. Valkenburg and Peter (2007, image of a child to someone else. However, guidance pro- 2009, 2011) conducted several studies between 2007 and duced by the CPS makes it clear that when images are shared 2011 on the question of whether online pornography viewing consensually between teenage intimates, a prosecution has affected adolescents. Their findings are summarized in Horvath et al. (2013) thus: Exposure to sexually explicitly would be very unlikely. Instead, a warning about future online movies led to greater perceptions of women as sex behavior is issued, alongside health and online safety guide- objects; if young people viewed sex in online pornography as lines, although it remains unclear how consensual sharing is realistic they were more likely to believe that casual/hedo- judged in court (CPS, 2018). nistic sex was more normal than that in loving and stable Before smartphones and tablets, adolescents used parents’ relationships; finally, increased viewing of online pornogra- desktop computers, domestic laptops, or devices at school to phy led to greater sexual uncertainty in the child, that is, a access the internet (Davidson & Martellozzo, 2013). Less lack of clarity about their sexual beliefs and values. than a decade later, things have changed dramatically. Almost Cultural and media studies theorists have controversially ubiquitous Wi-Fi now provides unchained internet access proposed that children are becoming increasingly desensi- away from the home and from parental supervision. In the tized to the presence of pornography, due to an increasing United Kingdom, 79% of 12- to 15-year-olds had a smart- sexualization of the cultural milieu—especially through a phone in 2016 (Ofcom, 2016) and although the range of saturation of mainstream mass medias by pseudo-porno- devices varied by socioeconomic group, there were no dif- graphic elements. Writers such as Brian McNair (2013) have ferences demonstrated in rates of smartphone ownership argued that television shows, music, fashion, and films have (Hartley, 2008). become imbued with “Porno Chic.” By this, the writer pro- The internet is replete with explicit, easily accessible, posed that increasingly sexualized tropes have now perme- sexual content, as evidenced by checking, the world’s most ated the mass media via “the pornosphere,” which is being popular pornography websites in 2018, where an array of consumed and viewed by children. Consequently, this has platforms such as PornHub etc., run by the Canadian com- led to erotic and risqué imagery being perceived as a norma- pany MindGeek, was the 29th most popular, and this excludes tive state of being for children to view while growing up. The the sexually explicit content accessed by popular sites like argument is further developed by Paasonen et al. (2007), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat who argued that children’s perceptions of what is normal (Alexa, 2018). It has been estimated that proportions of male have become warped through the “Pornogrification” of adolescents’ viewing pornography can be as high as 83% to mainstream mass media. The parallel arguments of McNair 100%, and 45% to 80% for females, although frequency of Martellozzo et al. 3 and Paasonen et al. (2007) are amplified for children more analysis of fieldwork data for the participants: 11 to 12, 13 to than adults, where online social media networks and photo- 14, and 15 to 16. A large scale, quantitative, online survey sharing apps have been in the vanguard of the spread of a (Stage 2), was book-ended by qualitative online forums and toxic Pornosphere, or Pornogrification process. focus groups in Stages 1 and 3 (Creswell, 2009). The design thus encompassed individually completed, wide ranging atti- tudinal data, supplemented by depth and richness of adoles- Defining Online Pornography cents’ experiences, considered within online group The literature demonstrates inconsistencies in definitions of discussions (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2005). The three “sexting” or of pornography itself and it is to the definition research stages comprised the following: of pornography that this article now turns. For the current research, an age-appropriate, suitably accessible definition Stage 1: An online discussion forum and four online focus of pornography was developed, and pilot tested in Stage 1. It groups, conducted with 34 young people. These groups was subsequently adopted for all fieldwork conducted: were split by age, but not by gender (18 females, 16 males). By pornography, we mean images and films of people having Stage 2: An anonymous online survey, with quantitative sex or behaving sexually online. This includes semi-naked and and qualitative components, implemented across the four naked images and films of people that you may have viewed or U.K. nations. One thousand seventeen young people downloaded from the internet, or that someone else shared with started the survey, with 1,001 being included in the final you directly, or showed to you on their phone or computer. analyses of whom 472 (47%) were male, 522, (52%) were female, and seven (1%) did not identify in a binary man- ner. The final sample was representative of the United Research Questions Kingdom’s 11- to 16-year-olds in terms of socioeconomic This article intends to respond to the following four research status, ethnicity, and gender. questions: Stage 3: Six online focus groups were conducted; these groups were stratified by age and gender and had 40 par- Research Question 1: Are there differences in attitudes, ticipants (21 females, 19 males). behavior, and device use to access adult pornography, between different age groups and gender of children and Materials and Analysis young people in viewing online adult pornography? Research Question 2: How do the attitudes toward online There were age-specific variations whereby some of the adult pornography of children and young people change more intrusive questions were not used with the youngest following multiple exposures to online adult participants (11-12 years) and language was kept age- pornography? appropriate. Research Question 3: To what degree does seeing online The investigation employed a Delphi style approach adult pornography influence children and young people’s between the three stages, in which the findings of one stage own sexual behavior? were checked and verified—both in terms of data reliability Research Question 4: To what degree is risky online and by comparison with the literature—by the research team, sexual behavior by children and young people influenced then by application to the next stage in the cycle (Hsu & by their previous exposure to online adult pornography? Sandford, 2007). Therefore, Stages 2 and 3 furnished an ele- ment of methodological triangulation to the study (Denzin, 2012). Method The data reported in this article have been extracted and Originally commissioned by the NSPCC and the OCC, and analyzed from all three stages of the research. The Stages 1 carried out by a team from Middlesex University, during late and 3 focus groups/forums were run online, generating ver- 2015 and early 2016, it comprised the largest study of the batim transcripts that are drawn on below. Focus group find- way in which adolescents respond to sexual images they ings were scrutinized using a mixed application of analytic have seen online and via social media. Participants were induction, constant comparison, and thematic data analysis recruited with the aid of the specialist survey company (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Smith & Firth, 2011). Research Bods, drawing on preexisting school and family panels. Additional steps were taken as part of the recruitment Ethics process to ensure that safeguarding and child welfare were at the forefront of recruitment (see “Ethics”). The three research stages were approved by the Middlesex A three-stage mixed methods design was used with a total University Department of Law ethics committee and con- of 1,072 adolescents aged 11 to 16 recruited from across the formed to ethical guidance of the British Sociological United Kingdom. Three age bandings were used in the Association. A careful threshold for safeguarding was 4 SAGE Open adopted, taking a precautionary stance whereby child protec- 19 (4%) young people were encountering pornography daily. tion encompassed both safeguarding and prevention of harm The 476 participants also reported that they had first seen the while also avoiding unnecessarily criminalizing adolescents. material on the following devices: 38% from a portable com- No personal identifying details were collected on the sur- puter (Laptop, iPad, Notebook, etc.); 33% from a hand-held vey and participants in the online forums/focus groups used device (e.g., iPhone, Android, Windows smartphone, only first names (either their own or a self-generated pseud- Blackberry, etc.); 24% from a desktop computer (Mac, PC, onym). They were actively discouraged from giving out any etc.); 2% from a gaming device (e.g., Xbox, PlayStation, personal details. A Participant Information Sheet (PIS) was Nintendo, etc.); while 3% preferred not to say. Just under provided to all adolescents taking part in the investigation, to half of the sample (476/48%) had seen online pornography, their primary caregiver, school, and other gatekeepers. If and of them, 47% (n = 209) reported having actively young people also agreed to take part in the research, then searched for it, leaving about half again who had seen such information about the study, how to consent, withdraw, and material without actively seeking it: finding it involuntarily the processes of safeguarding were reiterated before they through, for example, an unwanted pop-up, or by being participated. shown it/sent it by someone else. Respondents participating in the online forum/focus groups More boys (56%) report having seen pornography than were reminded at the beginning of each session that they could girls (40%). There was a gender disparity between the gen- leave the online platform at any time. In the online survey, ders intentionally seeking out online pornography, with 59% each subsection included an option to “exit,” that could be (n = 155/264) of males reporting doing so, but only 25% clicked at any time, and led to a withdrawal page featuring (n = 53/210) of females; and 6% (n = 28/n = 1,001) pre- contact information for relevant support organizations. ferred not to say. Potential gender differences in the rates of seeking out pornography were also explored during the focus groups. Findings and Analysis The qualitative findings from Stages 1 and 3 are consistent This section explores the findings of the fieldwork in the fol- with the quantitative data (from the online Stage 1 question- lowing key areas: Survey data are drawn on to report the naire) considered above. For example, a common answer extent of adolescent viewing of online (adult) pornography in given by male respondents was that they actively searched the United Kingdom, within the age bands 11 to 12, 13 to 14, for online pornography: and 15 to 16, and gender differences between these catego- ries; an outline of the devices the responding adolescents used With friends as a joke. (Male, 14) to view/access the material; consideration of the reactions of respondents when they first viewed online pornography; and Yeah, we all do. (Male, 13) their changing reactions upon seeing it later in their lives and respondents’ attitudes toward online pornography. The quali- However, none of the girls made similar statements. tative stages were drawn on to provide some indication of the degree to which seeing online adult pornography had either Adolescents’ Responses influenced young people’s own sexual behavior or changed their attitudes toward potential sexual partners’ behaviors, The contrast between reactions to first viewing and responses usually from a heterosexual perspective. to current viewing of online pornography among the 476 Finally, the research explored the extent of risky online who had initially seen it and 227 who reported currently sexual behavior by respondents, and whether this was influ- viewing it are laid out in Tables 1 and 2. enced by the online pornography that had been previously Before interpreting these findings further, it is worth not- viewed. ing the low number of adolescents who continue to see por- nography. Of those who reported still seeing pornography, curiosity declined as a response from 41% to 30%. This is The Extent of Adolescents Viewing of Online predictable as adolescents became more familiar with the Pornography in the United Kingdom sexual material. Other effects are extremely mixed and The survey found that 48% (n = 476) had seen online por- change radically between first viewing and current reactions. nography, and 52% had not (n = 525). The older the respon- Of the negative effects, “shocked” declined from 27% to 8%; dent group, the more likely they were to have seen “confused,” 24% to 4%; “disgusted,” 23% to 13%; “ner- pornography (65% of 15-16; 46% of 13-14, and 28% of vous,” 21% to 15%; “sick,” 11% to 7%; “scared,” 11% to 11-12). There is a clear rising trend evident, with 46% (n = 3%; and “upset,” 6% to 3%. 248) of 11- to 16-year-olds who had ever seen online pornog- The negative survey reactions were reinforced by the fol- raphy (n = 476) being exposed to it by 14 years. lowing statements made in Stages 1 and 3: Of the 476 respondents who had seen online pornography, 34% (n = 161) reported seeing it once a week or more. Only Sometimes [I feel] disgusted—other times alright. (Male, 13) Martellozzo et al. 5 Table 1. Current Feelings. Table 2. Initial Feelings. Feelings n % Feelings n % Turned on 111 48.9 Curious 196 41.1 Curious 69 30.4 Shocked 126 26.5 Excited 52 22.9 Confused 116 24.4 Happy 42 18.5 Disgusted 107 22.5 Sexy 37 16.3 Nervous 100 21.0 Nervous 33 14.5 Turned on 83 17.4 Disgusted 29 12.8 Ashamed 54 11.3 Ashamed 26 11.5 Excited 54 11.3 Shocked 19 8.4 Sick 51 10.7 Sick 16 7.0 Scared 50 10.5 Unhappy 12 5.3 Upset 29 6.1 Confused 10 4.4 Happy 24 5.0 Scared 7 3.1 Sexy 21 4.4 Upset 6 2.6 Unhappy 21 4.4 Note. The subsample included 227 participants who had responded to this Note. The subsample included 476 participants who had responded to this question. Each category is not mutually exclusive. question. Each category is not mutually exclusive. A bit uncomfortable because of the way they act in the videos. changes, for example, comparing “turned on” on first view- (Male, 14) ing with “turned on” still shows that 55 adolescents who did not report being turned on originally do report it on contin- Bad for watching it. Like I shouldn’t really be seeing it. (Female, ued viewing, χ (1, N = 227) = 44.16, p < .01, Phi = .44. 14) However, on testing for differences between the respondents for current viewing, it also became clear that 207 of those Such findings can be interpreted in several ways. First, young people who were not turned on originally did not some adolescents who had negative reactions on first view- report still seeing pornography, another significant differ- ing pornography take additional steps to not see it again (and 2 ence, χ (1, N = 476) = 43.12, p < .01, Phi = .30. In other may thus not appear in the current viewing data). Second, words, more adolescents who did not report being turned on some may have become desensitized to the sexually explicit avoided pornography than went on to enjoy it. material they are seeing, or they may have built greater resil- ience to the more unpleasant aspects of the pornographic Cognitive Responses by Adolescents content. These ideas may not be mutually exclusive. Some of the adolescents’ statements in the forum/focus groups would The respondents were asked to evaluate most of the online appear to support these suppositions: pornography they had seen, in terms of 14 different feelings/ categories, using a 5-point Likert-type scale. The overall Definitely different. At first, it might’ve shocked me but due to results were extremely varied. For example, the largest pro- the increasing use of sex and sexual themes in the media and portional response is “unrealistic,” with 49% stating that music videos, I’ve grown a sort of resistance against it, I don’t they agreed with this assessment; but other statements with feel disgusted or turned on. (Female, 13-14) which sizable proportions of the young people agreed, include that pornography is “arousing” (47%), “shocking,” 1st time was strange—I didn’t really know what to think. But (46%) and “exciting” (40%). It is important to keep in mind now it’s kinda normal; sex isn’t as taboo. (Male, 13-14) that none of these categories are mutually exclusive and that it is entirely possible for a young person to both be aroused At first, I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it, my mates have and troubled by the adult-content they view. talked about watching it so I don’t feel bad watching it now. (Male, 15-16) The critical awareness necessary for some adolescents to resist potential negative effects of online pornography may be inferred by data that 36% of viewers found the content Tables 1 and 2 also demonstrate potentially more positive “silly” and 34% “amusing.” Both these figures outstripping reactions to online explicit content, or at least reactions that reactions like “repulsive/revolting” 30%, “scary” 23%, or may be more consistent with sexual maturation, for example, “upsetting” 21% and 20% labeling it “boring.” However, “turned on” advanced from 17% to 49%; “excited,” 11% to girls’ anxieties about whether boys delineate between the 23%; “happy,” 5% to 19%; and finally “sexy,” 4% to 16%. fantasy of online pornography and the reality of adult sexual On first examination, these are statistically significant 6 SAGE Open Table 3. Online Pornography Has Given Me Ideas About Types Table 4. Online Pornography Has Given Me Ideas About Types of Sex to Try Out. of Sex to Try Out by Gender. Yes (%) No (%) Yes (%) No (%) 11-12 years (n = 79) 21 79 Male (n = 241) 44 56 13-14 years (n = 149) 39 61 Female (n = 195) 29 71 15-16 years (n = 215) 42 58 Note. χ (1, N = 436) = 10.75, p < .01, Phi = .16. Note. χ (2, N = 437) = 10.84, p < .01, Phi = .16. although in all age groups, more young people did not relations is also clear from the following statements taken endorse this idea than those who agreed with it. from focus groups: Statistically significant gender differences were also found in response to the same question. Some 44% (106/241) It teaches people about sex and what it is like to have it—but I of males, compared with 29% (56/195) of females, reported think it teaches people a fake understanding of sex—what we that the online pornography they had seen gave them ideas see on these videos isn’t what actually happens in real life. about the types of sex they wanted to try out. Again, it is wise (Female, 14) to exercise caution when interpreting this finding, particu- larly as gender roles in initiating or engaging in sexual activ- Yes and can learn bad things like watching anal sex and then ity may be at play here, both in terms of young people’s some boys might expect anal sex with their partner. (Female, 13) beliefs and how these were disclosed in the research. The focus group findings from Stage 3 were broadly con- It should be noted that focus groups provided little evi- sistent with these data. When male respondents were asked dence of actually seeing, or hearing, of troubling behavior whether they knew anyone who had tried something they occurring. Only one respondent indicated that saw in online pornography, they stated, One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the Yes. She tried kinky things—like tying to the bed and Punishing. videos—not major—just a slap here or there. (Male, 13) (Male, 13) Yes, they tried to have sexual intercourse. (Male, 14) Emulating Behaviors Although there was little direct evidence about experience of When the question became more personal (“Has pornogra- emulating fantasies, the idea that things seen in pornography phy ever made you think about trying out something you could be tried out, did emerge frequently during the online have seen?”), most respondents said no, with very few focus groups with the older groups (13-14; 15-16). When exceptions: asked about what the risks may be from watching online pornography: Occasionally—yes. (Male, 13) People may try things that can lead to harm. (Male, 13) Made me think but not actually do it. (Female, 13) People will try to copy what they see. (Female, 11) If me and my partner like it then we did more but if one of us didn’t like it we didn’t carry on. (Male, 15-16) It’s give a unrealistic view of sex and our bodies makes us self- conscious and question why are bodies are not developed like When asked in the stage two online survey, if seeing online what we see online. (Female, 13) pornography had “. . . led me to believe that women should act in certain ways during sex,” of 393 responses: 16% of 15- These findings also emerged from the online questionnaire to 16-year-olds either agreed/strongly agreed, while 24% of as presented on Tables 3 and 4. 13- to 14-year-olds did. Conversely, 54% of 15- to 16-year- Statistically significant age differences were found in olds disagreed/strongly disagreed with the statement, and response to the question, “Has the online pornography that 40% of 13- to 14-year-olds. When the question was flipped to you have seen given you ideas about the types of sex you whether seeing online pornography had “. . . led me to believe want to try out?” Of the 437 respondents, 90 of the 15- to that men should act in certain ways during sex”: 18% of 15- 16-year-old group (42%) reported that online pornography to 16-year-olds either agreed/strongly agreed, while 23% of has given them ideas of wanting to act out sexual practices; 13- to 14-year-olds did. Conversely, 54% of 15- to 16-year- 58 of the 13- to 14-year-old group (39%) and 15 of the 11- to olds disagreed/strongly disagreed with the statement, and 12-year-old group (21%). This may be related to the greater 40% of 13- to 14-year-olds (again, 393 answered). likelihood of sexual activity as they reach the age of consent, Martellozzo et al. 7 These findings provide evidence of some adolescents’ Working with young people, we are finding that sexting increasingly feels like a norm in terms of behaviour in their peer assimilation of ideas from online pornography about male group. (Weale, 2015) and female expected behaviors during physical sex. What the data cannot tell us is whether the concepts that they are assimilating relate to safe, considerate, mutually enjoyable During the online focus groups, the adolescents who com- sexual activities with a consenting partner; or coercive, abu- mented seemed to interpret “sexting” more as writing and sive, violent, exploitative, degrading, and potentially harm- sharing explicit messages with people they knew, rather than ful or illegal sex. Here too, we cannot know whether their sending nude images of others, or of their own body, in full ideas would change with experience. However, consistent or part (Jaishankar, 2009). Indeed, it has been argued that with points made earlier about repeated viewing, the oldest adolescents use an entirely different nomenclature for visual, cohort (15-16) believed that the influence of online pornog- rather than textual messages, including, “dodgy-pix,” raphy on shaping their views on how men and women ought “nudes,” or “nude-selfies” (Weale, 2015). to behave during sex is reduced, by −8% for women’s behav- The Stage 2 online survey revealed that most adolescents ior and −5% for men’s. did not create or send naked self-generated images and this Participants in the online forum and focus groups gener- finding is supported by recent survey research undertaken in ally expressed negative views and anxieties about how three EU countries with young people (Webster et al., 2014). watching online pornography might affect adolescents’ per- Within the current survey, 135 boys and girls reported pro- ceptions of normal/acceptable male and female roles in a ducing topless pictures of themselves (13% of the 948 who sexual encounter: answered) and 27 (3% of those answering) had taken fully naked pictures of themselves. Potentially more concerning is Well you see what is happening in porn and you almost get that just over half of those who produced naked or seminaked worried about other peoples relationships and it puts me off images (74/135 or 55%) had then shared them, by either having any future relationships as it is very male dominated and physically showing the images to someone else, or transmit- not romantic or trusting—or promoting good relationships. ting those images online to one or more contacts. (Female, 13) Those reporting having taken a fully naked image of themselves constituted under 3% of the entire sample It would put pressure to do things you don’t feel comfortable (27/1,001) and this does not mean that they then proceeded with. (Female, 14) to share the images. However, the survey also asked respon- dents why they created naked and seminaked pictures of They (boys) become a different person—and begin to think that themselves? Sixty-nine percent (93/135) reported that they it is alright to act and behave in such ways. The way they talk to wanted to do so, although 20% (27/135) did not. The latter others changes as well. When they look at a girl they probably only thinking of that one thing—which isn’t how women should figure is potentially a safeguarding concern, with one-in-five be looked at. (Male, 14) self-taken naked/seminaked pictures of adolescents, seeming to derive some form of external pressure or coercion. Some 36% of adolescents, who took naked or seminaked Adolescents Sharing Sexually Explicit Material self-generated photographs (49/135), reported that they had Online been asked to show these images to someone online. When asked whether they knew the person to whom they showed Online pornography’s ubiquity is facilitated by the ease and the images, 61% of those who shared images (30/49) replied speed with which it can be self-generated and shared. Most that they did, indicating that most of these images probably young people in this sample had neither received nor sent remained localized within the child-producer’s social circle, explicit material; however, 26% (258/1,001) of respondents or a boyfriend/girlfriend, at least initially. However, 25 ado- had received online pornography/links, whether or not they lescents (2.5% of the sample) stated that they had sent a pic- had requested them. Far lower proportions reported that they ture of themselves performing a sexual act to an online had ever sent pornographic material to someone else, at 4% contact, something that is both more serious in terms of the (40/918), although the researchers were aware that some image content and more likely to be passed-on more widely. “senders” may be more reluctant to acknowledge this than When asked whether respondents had ever seen images of “recipients.” a naked body or intimate body part of someone they knew, Readers are reminded that sexual and eroticized or fully 73 (8% of those who answered) had seen such an image of a or partially naked photographs of adolescents below 18 are close friend, 15% (144/961) had seen that of an acquain- illegal to possess, send, or receive in the United Kingdom, tance, 3% (31/961) saw images of their partners, and 8% although it is not normally the policy of the CPS to prosecute (77/961) of someone they knew as an online only contact. In these cases for teenage intimates (CPS, 2018). However, the online forums/focus groups, most adolescents seemed to “sexting” has become something of a media trope in part evidence a highly developed critical awareness of some of fuelled by statements from the police such as, 8 SAGE Open the possible negative ramifications of sending a naked 2015). The role of pressure/coercion from boyfriends/girl- “selfie” to an online contact: friends to send self-generated sexualized images also needs to be acknowledged in this process, alongside voluntary Your rep will be ruined. (Male, 14) sending of images or conversely, deception and lies from the intended recipient. They could save it. And its illegal as its classed as distribution of child pornography if your under 18—even if its yourself. (Male, Summary and Concluding Discussion 13) Social Policy Implications in Britain You have no control over it once sent. (Female, 13) As this research has shown, the exposure to explicit content If you send it to one person—the entire school will have seen it can harm children and young people’s perception of sex, by the next day. (Female, 16) healthy relationships, and how they view their own bodies. During the course of this study, some children and young These findings from our three stages of fieldwork into U.K. people asked explicitly for help and support, whether through adolescents aged 11 to 16 can be compared with those from education and/or some form of blocking the access to unde- a recently published major research study by the Child sired materials. It is therefore undoubtful that some robust Exploitation and Online Protection command (CEOP), who regulations are needed to protect children and young people found that 34% of 2,315 respondents aged 14 to 24 had sent from accessing online pornography. a nude or sexual image of themselves to someone they were In the United Kingdom, the Government announced plans sexually interested in, and that 52% had received a similar to restrict young people’s access to online pornography image from someone who had sent it of themselves, with through the introduction of compulsory Age Verification (AV). males scoring at 55% and females at 45%. When these data The legal basis for this was contained in the United Kingdom’s were filtered to include only 14- to 17-year-olds, then the recent Part Three of the Digital Economy Act, 2017 (DCMS, corresponding figures were 26% who had sent an image, 2016). The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), while 48% had received one of the senders (McGeeney & which provides age certificates for films, was the selected Hanson, 2017). organization to act as the regulator for the new regime. It was The motivations of young people in taking and sending anticipated that the new policy would work principally through sexualized naked/seminaked images of their bodies/body payments providers and advertisers threatening to break off all parts are complex and could encompass a mixture of many dealings with noncompliant sites; for example, porn publish- different influences, including sexual gratification via an ers that refused to introduce age verification, but the BBFC online sexual encounter; deception, whereby an adult may be had a residual power to oblige access providers to block access using an avatar to inveigle images out of adolescents poten- in the same way they do sites known to contain child sex abuse tially leading to “sextortion,” as in the Amanda Todd case material (Tempterton, 2016). (Wolf, 2012). Swapping images is also a recognized tactic of This would have been the first universal “porn-block” on online child-groomers, in their campaign to meet-up with the internet in the world but, at the very last moment, the their targets to perpetrate contact Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Government announced that the commencement of age veri- (Martellozzo & Jane, 2017). Some adolescents may be fication for porn sites would be delayed, possibly indefintely indulging in sexual exhibitionism with online contacts, and a (Waterson, 2019). Up until this point, the UK government very common motivation is the “private” exchange of nude/ had already spent £2 million on failing to implement the seminude selfies with established relationship partners much delayed measure (Hern, 2019). However, in delivering (Martellozzo & Jane, 2017). this message, Nicky Morgan MP (now a Baroness), the Behind all these potential drivers of risky sexual online Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, behavior, may lie factors such as the modern market-satura- stated that in the Government’s new and expanded vision for tion of smartphones, the influence of the mass media and policy in this area, she anticipates the: culture, and the possibility of adolescents being inculcated into a world of new social online medias, which may be UK becoming a world-leader in the development of online imbued with cultural “Pornification,” or “Pornogrification” safety technology and to ensure companies of all sizes have (Allen & Carmody, 2012; McNair, 2013; Paasonen et al., access to, and adopt, innovative solutions to improve the safety 2007). There is also the widely held assumption in the mass of their users. This includes age verification tools and we expect them to continue to play a key role in protecting children online. media that younger adults and adolescents live in a “selfie- (Johnston, 2019) nation” obsessed with snapping everything and posting the results online. Ofcom published survey data indicating that 31% of adults had taken at least one selfie in 2014, while Although the delay is disappointing, it is critical that the 10% admitted to taking at least 10 a week (Press Association, modus operandi utilized to protect children and young Martellozzo et al. 9 people from unnecessary exposure works effectively. The online safety, could counter many negative impacts on ado- issue will now be addressed under the U.K. governments’ lescents by providing information and education on the topic broader Online Harms White Paper, which has now closed that is appropriately age-tailored, and that does not leave for consultations (Gov.co.uk, 2019): adolescents to construct maladaptive coping strategies. Instead, the government would instead focus on measures to Finally, we raise the issue of “Adolescents” Rights to protect children in the much broader Online Harms White Paper. comprehensive, informative, educational awareness of the This is expected to introduce a new internet regulator, which many issues and dangers surrounding their engagement with will impose a duty of care on all websites and social media online adult pornography, as part of a focus on their wider outlets—not just pornography sites. online safety, security, digital privacy, and health. Young people’s needs for good quality relationships education and Furthermore, the forthcoming introduction of compulsory improved digital literacy, wherever they live, could be nega- Relationship and Sexual Education (RSE) in all schools in tively impacted by potential obstructions such as the content England and Wales for both sex and digital safety/literacy of the RSE curriculum; a refusal by some schools to teach (from September 2020), under the Children and Social Work about sexual behavior or other relationships at all; the profes- Act, 2017, could potentially enhance the preparation of ado- sional skills of those teachers/trainers designated to deliver lescents for when they do see sexually explicit material online. new content; or whether parents can withdraw their adoles- However, this law does not explicitly refer to internet issues, cents on religious or moral grounds from current provision, but it is hoped that schools will cover the subject. Furthermore, where it exists. There is thus a need to balance parental rights the U.K. Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) with duties to prepare adolescents for their future lives, ide- Education Group has produced detailed guidelines to assist ally allowing them to benefit from lessons on digital health, and enable schools to develop online safety policy and prac- safety, security, and sexual health. tice, by using an approach that includes parents and the wider community (UKCCIS, 2017). There is also an industry stan- Limitations of the Data Set dard Publicly Available Specification (PAS no1296) that has been developed by the Digital Policy Alliance (Vigras, 2016), A few limitations in the data set were evident. First, a deci- regarding what should be a “reasonable” means by which sion was taken to invite only adolescents aged 11 to 16. businesses can provide such verification. However, the stan- Seventeen- and 18-year-olds were excluded as the age of dard has yet to be formally implemented. consent in the United Kingdom is 16 and this was consid- The government’s Internet Safety Strategy (2018) Green ered a threshold which made them different, both legally Paper launched a consultation which reported in May 2018. and experientially than those up to age 16. Under 11-year- This produced a three pronged response: First, new online olds were excluded as this is the threshold for entry to sec- safety laws are to be created to make sure the United ondary school and the additional ethical and methodological Kingdom is the safest place in the world to be online; second, strictures posed by such research with young adolescents their response to the Internet Safety Strategy consultation; were beyond the scope and resources of this project. Finally, and third, the government was to collaborate with industry, a caveat to be aware of was that proportionate numbers of charities, and the public on a White Paper. This Online adolescents from Northern Ireland were not attained in the Harms White Paper has now closed for consultation, and the sample, due to school gatekeepers’ reluctance to engage. policy intentions of the U.K. government, based on its find- Many in the world were eager to see how the online “Porn ings, are awaited. The last update on this forthcoming publi- Block” with Age Verification was going to work, to both cation was published in June 2019 (Gov.co.uk, 2019). emulate it and improve upon it. Its total collapse in the United Kingdom, with a concomitant loss of time, money, and pres- tige, leaves the thorny question of how adolescents can be International Implications protected from the threats of online harm, from some aspects of internet pornography, open to question. Research into an The issue of pornography being hosted in jurisdictions which effective way of achieving this goal, while balancing the do not require age verification is further compounded by requirements to provide age-appropriate sex and relationship TOR (The Onion Browser) and similar means (e.g., Virtual education, with digital health, safety, and security informa- Private Networks [VPNs]) to anonymously access “the dark tion, has become a paramount concern for all those who seek web..” Adolescents who want to access digital services, to protect children from the rising tide of online harms. including pornography, without paying or verifying their age, could possibly use routes that allow untraceable, poten- tially encrypted access to websites that may also be offering Acknowledgments illegal drugs, images of CSA, bestiality, or guns, and so We acknowledge our colleagues Dr. Miranda Horvath, co-PI of the forth. (Chen, 2011). Raising the issues surrounding online research, and Dr. Rodolfo Leyva for their assistance throughout the pornography at school, as part of relationships or citizenship project. We thank Dr. Miranda Horvath and Dr. Rodolfo Leyva for education, under the remit of improving sexual health and their contributions to this research. 10 SAGE Open Declaration of Conflicting Interests Information, Communication & Society, 16(9), 1456–1476. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2012.701655 The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect DCMS. (2016). Digital economy bill part 3: Online pornography. to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-econ- omy-bill-part-3-online-pornography Funding Denzin, N. K. (2012). Triangulation 2.0. Journal of Mixed The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support Methods Research, 6(2), 80–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/155 for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by the NSPCC and the Office of the Gov.co.uk. (2019, April 8). Online harms white paper. https:// Children’s Commissioner (OCC) for England. www.gov.uk/government/consultations/online-harms-white- paper The Government’s Internet Safety Strategy. (2018). Internet safety Ethical Approval strategy green paper. https://www.gov.uk/government/consul- The research was conducted in accordance with the British tations/internet-safety-strategy-green-paper Sociological Association ethical codes of conduct and approved by Hartley, J. (2008). Television truths: Forms of knowledge in popu- the Psychology Department ethics committee. lar culture. John Wiley. Hern, A. (2019, October 24). Government spent £2m on porn block ORCID iDs before policy was dropped. 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Wired. https://www. wired.co.uk/article/porn-age-verification-checks-digital-econ- Author Biographies omy-act-uk-government Elena Martellozzo is a criminologist at Middlesex University and UK Council for Child Internet Safety. (2017). https://www.gov. specializes in sex offenders’ behavior, their use of the internet, and uk/government/groups/uk-council-for-child-internet-safety- child safety. She has worked extensively with children and young ukccis#ukccis-members people, serious offenders, and practitioners for over 15 years. Her Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Preadolescents’ and ado- work includes exploring children and young people online behavior lescents’ online communication and their closeness to friends. and risks, the analysis of sexual grooming, online sexual exploita- Developmental Psychology, 43(2), 267–277. https://doi. tion, and police practice in the area of online child sexual abuse. org/10.1037/0012-1649.43.2.267 Andrew Monaghan is a criminologist at Middlesex University and Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). Social consequences of his area of expertise is self-generated images, online pornography, the internet for adolescents: A decade of research. Current and online risks. He is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher Directions in Psychological Science, 18(1), 1–5. https://doi. on the Horizon 2020 Project, an EU-wide research study that is org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01595.x investigating the causes of international terrorism and organized Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2011). Online communication crime. among adolescents: An integrated model of its attraction, opportunities, and risks. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(2), Julia Davidson is a professor of criminology at the University of 121–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.08.020 East London. She is one of the United Kingdom’s foremost experts Vigras, V. (2016). PAS 1296, online age checking: Code of prac- on online child abuse and serious offending. She has directed a con- tice. https://www.dpalliance.org.uk/pas-1296-online-age-che siderable amount of national and international research spanning 25 cking-code-of-practice/ years. Waterson, J. (2019, October 16). UK drops plans for online por- nography age verification system. The Guardian. https://www. Joanna Adler is a professor of psychology at the University of theguardian.com/culture/2019/oct/16/uk-drops-plans-for-online- Hertfordshire. She works closely with practitioners and those pornography-age-verification-system?CMP=fb_gu&utm_ who are involved in implementing criminal and civil justice. She medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR2_ has conducted research and evaluation in the public, private, and LemndmS1kI9RL-_E-ADDgCA9Xd0T7jBuldXfAE8yIG8g6iq voluntary sectors, alongside colleagues in the school of Health kftM1viM#Echobox=1571236161 and Education and the School of Law. Together, they have deliv- Weale, S. (2015, November). Sexting becoming “the norm” for ered work that is useful, impactful, and underpinned by academic teens, warn child protection experts. The Guardian. https:// rigor.

Journal

SAGE OpenSAGE

Published: Feb 2, 2020

Keywords: children; problematic internet use; computer-mediated communication; survey; interviews; pornography

References